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Video: Themes

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Video Transcript – Themes


Personality psychology is concerned with enduring patterns of behavior, thought, and emotion—commonly referred to as personality—in individuals. Theories of personality vary across different psychological schools and orientations. They carry different assumptions about such issues as the role of the unconscious and the importance of childhood experience. According to Freud, personality is based on the dynamic interactions of the id, ego, and super-ego.[112] In order to develop a taxonomy of personality constructs, trait theorists, in contrast, attempt to describe the personality sphere in terms of a discrete number of key traits using the statistical data-reduction method of factor analysis. Although the number of proposed traits has varied widely, an early biologically-based model proposed by Hans Eysenck, the 3rd mostly highly cited psychologist of the 20th Century (after Freud, and Piaget respectively), suggested that at least three major trait constructs are necessary to describe human personality structure: extraversion–introversion, neuroticism-stability, and psychoticism-normality. Raymond Cattell, the 7th most highly cited psychologist of the 20th Century (based on the scientific peer-reviewed journal literature)[113] empirically derived a theory of 16 personality factors at the primary-factor level, and up to 8 broader second-stratum factors (at the Eysenckian level of analysis), rather than the “Big Five” dimensions.[114][115][116][117] Dimensional models of personality are receiving increasing support, and a version of dimensional assessment has been included in the DSM-V. However, despite a plethora of research into the various versions of the “Big Five” personality dimensions, it appears necessary to move on from static conceptualizations of personality structure to a more dynamic orientation, whereby it is acknowledged that personality constructs are subject to learning and change across the lifespan.[118][119]

An early example of personality assessment was the Woodworth Personal Data Sheet, constructed during World War I. The popular, although psychometrically inadequate Myers–Briggs Type Indicator[120] sought to assess individuals’ “personality types” according to the personality theories of Carl Jung. Behaviorist resistance to introspection led to the development of the Strong Vocational Interest Blank and Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI), in an attempt to ask empirical questions that focused less on the psychodynamics of the respondent.[121] However, the MMPI has been subjected to critical scrutiny, given that it adhered to archaic psychiatric nosology, and since it required individuals to provide subjective, introspective responses to the hundreds of items pertaining to psychopathology.[122]

Unconscious Mind

Study of the unconscious mind, a part of the psyche outside the awareness of the individual which nevertheless influenced thoughts and behavior was a hallmark of early psychology. In one of the first psychology experiments conducted in the United States, C.S. Peirce and Joseph Jastrow found in 1884 that subjects could choose the minutely heavier of two weights even if consciously uncertain of the difference.[123] Freud popularized this concept, with terms like Freudian slip entering popular culture, to mean an uncensored intrusion of unconscious thought into one’s speech and action. His 1901 text The Psychopathology of Everyday Life catalogues hundreds of everyday events which Freud explains in terms of unconscious influence. Pierre Janet advanced the idea of a subconscious mind, which could contain autonomous mental elements unavailable to the scrutiny of the subject.[124]

Behaviorism notwithstanding, the unconscious mind has maintained its importance in psychology. Cognitive psychologists have used a “filter” model of attention, according to which much information processing takes place below the threshold of consciousness, and only certain processes, limited by nature and by simultaneous quantity, make their way through the filter. Copious research has shown that subconscious priming of certain ideas can covertly influence thoughts and behavior.[124] A significant hurdle in this research is proving that a subject’s conscious mind has not grasped a certain stimulus, due to the unreliability of self-reporting. For this reason, some psychologists prefer to distinguish between implicit and explicit memory. In another approach, one can also describe a subliminal stimulus as meeting an objective but not a subjective threshold.[125]

The automaticity model, which became widespread following exposition by John Bargh and others in the 1980s, describes sophisticated processes for executing goals which can be selected and performed over an extended duration without conscious awareness.[126][127] Some experimental data suggests that the brain begins to consider taking actions before the mind becomes aware of them.[125][128] This influence of unconscious forces on people’s choices naturally bears on philosophical questions free will. John Bargh, Daniel Wegner, and Ellen Langer are some prominent contemporary psychologists who describe free will as an illusion.[126][127][129]


Psychologists such as William James initially used the term motivation to refer to intention, in a sense similar to the concept of will in European philosophy. With the steady rise of Darwinian and Freudian thinking, instinct also came to be seen as a primary source of motivation.[130] According to drive theory, the forces of instinct combine into a single source of energy which exerts a constant influence. Psychoanalysis, like biology, regarded these forces as physical demands made by the organism on the nervous system. However, they believed that these forces, especially the sexual instincts, could become entangled and transmuted within the psyche. Classical psychoanalysis conceives of a struggle between the pleasure principle and the reality principle, roughly corresponding to id and ego. Later, in Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Freud introduced the concept of the death drive, a compulsion towards aggression, destruction, and psychic repetition of traumatic events.[131] Meanwhile, behaviorist researchers used simple dichotomous models (pleasure/pain, reward/punishment) and well-established principles such as the idea that a thirsty creature will take pleasure in drinking.[130][132] Clark Hull formalized the latter idea with his drive reduction model.[133]

Hunger, thirst, fear, sexual desire, and thermoregulation all seem to constitute fundamental motivations for animals.[132] Humans also seem to exhibit a more complex set of motivations—though theoretically these could be explained as resulting from primordial instincts—including desires for belonging, self-image, self-consistency, truth, love, and control.[134][135]

Motivation can be modulated or manipulated in many different ways. Researchers have found that eating, for example, depends not only on the organism’s fundamental need for homeostasis—an important factor causing the experience of hunger—but also on circadian rhythms, food availability, food palatability, and cost.[132] Abstract motivations are also malleable, as evidenced by such phenomena as goal contagion: the adoption of goals, sometimes unconsciously, based on inferences about the goals of others.[136] Vohs and Baumeister suggest that contrary to the need-desire-fulfilment cycle of animal instincts, human motivations sometimes obey a “getting begets wanting” rule: the more you get a reward such as self-esteem, love, drugs, or money, the more you want it. They suggest that this principle can even apply to food, drink, sex, and sleep.[137]


Mainly focusing on the development of the human mind through the life span, developmental psychology seeks to understand how people come to perceive, understand, and act within the world and how these processes change as they age. This may focus on cognitive, affective, moral, social, or neural development. Researchers who study children use a number of unique research methods to make observations in natural settings or to engage them in experimental tasks. Such tasks often resemble specially designed games and activities that are both enjoyable for the child and scientifically useful, and researchers have even devised clever methods to study the mental processes of infants. In addition to studying children, developmental psychologists also study aging and processes throughout the life span, especially at other times of rapid change (such as adolescence and old age). Developmental psychologists draw on the full range of psychological theories to inform their research.[citation needed]

Genes and Environment

All researched psychological traits are influenced by both genes and environment, to varying degrees.[138][139] These two sources of influence are often confounded in observational research of individuals or families. An example is the transmission of depression from a depressed mother to her offspring. Theory may hold that the offspring, by virtue of having a depressed mother in his or her (the offspring’s) environment, is at risk for developing depression. However, risk for depression is also influenced to some extent by genes. The mother may both carry genes that contribute to her depression but will also have passed those genes on to her offspring thus increasing the offspring’s risk for depression. Genes and environment in this simple transmission model are completely confounded. Experimental and quasi-experimental behavioral genetic research uses genetic methodologies to disentangle this confound and understand the nature and origins of individual differences in behavior.[75] Traditionally this research has been conducted using twin studies and adoption studies, two designs where genetic and environmental influences can be partially un-confounded. More recently, the availability of microarray molecular genetic or genome sequencing technologies allows researchers to measure participant DNA variation directly, and test whether individual genetic variants within genes are associated with psychological traits and psychopathology through methods including genome-wide association studies. One goal of such research is similar to that in positional cloning and its success in Huntington’s: once a causal gene is discovered biological research can be conducted to understand how that gene influences the phenotype. One major result of genetic association studies is the general finding that psychological traits and psychopathology, as well as complex medical diseases, are highly polygenic,[140][141][142][143][144] where a large number (on the order of hundreds to thousands) of genetic variants, each of small effect, contribute to individual differences in the behavioral trait or propensity to the disorder. Active research continues to understand the genetic and environmental bases of behavior and their interaction.

The above video and transcript use material from the Wikipedia articles “Introduction to Psychology” and “Psychology“, which are released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.


  1. Introduction to Psychology. (n.d.). In Wikibooks. Retrieved August 13, 2020, from https://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Introduction_to_Psychology
  2. Psychology. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved August 13, 2020, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychology

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